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  • How Congress wants DoD to tackle AI and machine learning in 2019

    July 25, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    How Congress wants DoD to tackle AI and machine learning in 2019

    By: Maddy Longwell Congress used its annual defense policy bill to require leadership at the Department of Defense to double down on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Pentagon officials have repeatedly said artificial intelligence is a critical technology to staying ahead of potential adversaries. Earlier this month, the Defense Department reorganized its leadership structure to put a greater emphasis on emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence. In addition, the Pentagon said it plans to spend $1.7 billion over the next five years to stand up a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, according to new budgeting figures. Most recently, in an agreement between Congressional negotiators released July 23, lawmakers called for the Pentagon to establish a new commission to review advances in AI technology, a 15-member body that would meet regularly until October 2020. Members will be appointed by the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Commerce and members of congressional defense committees. The commission will focus on AI, machine learning and associated technology with respect to national security and defense. It is expected to review the competitiveness of U.S. technology and foreign advances in AI, potential workforce and education incentives to attract and recruit talent for AI and machine learning technology jobs and research ways to foster emphasis and investments in research to stimulate the development of AI technology. The commission is tasked with presenting an initial report to the President and Congress within 180 days of the passage of the bill. It is also expected to produce annual comprehensive reports on the same topics, which will be publicly available. In addition to the new commission, the NDAA bill establishes other changes to address AI, machine learning and quantum science technology. They include: A designated official to coordinate AI and machine learning technology development The bill instructs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official who will be responsible for “developing a strategic plan to develop, adopt and transition artificial intelligence technologies into operational use.” This version encourages the official to partner with industry, academia and private industries, and use the “flexibility of regulations and acquisition,” to develop and field AI and machine learning technology for the Department of Defense. Reports submitted by the Secretary of Defense about US competitiveness in emerging technologies The bill also requires that the Secretary of Defense and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency submit classified reports that compare the capabilities of the United States and its adversaries in emerging technology areas. The reports are expected to evaluate hypersonic, AI, quantum information science and directed energy weapons technologies. The NDAA bill says that reports should include evaluations of spending, quantity, quality, test infrastructure, work force and the willingness of adversaries to use technology. Improving the Air Force supply chain The NDAA bill allows the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics to use funds for “non-traditional technologies and sustainment practices [which includes artificial intelligence] to increase the availability of aircraft to the Air Force and decrease backlogs and lead times for the production of parts.” The assistant secretary is able to use up to $42.8 million for research, development, test and evaluation.

  • This new antenna networks UAVs to expand battlefield comms

    July 24, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    This new antenna networks UAVs to expand battlefield comms

    By: Maddy Longwell Persistent Systems, a New York City-based global communications technology company, has introduced a portable antenna system to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles into a networked battlefield. The auto-tracking antenna system is an easily collapsible ground-to-air antenna that operates on the Wave Relay mobile ad hoc network (MANET), which Persistent Systems manufactures, a news release said. Persistent Systems hopes the antenna could be used in Special Operations Command's Mid-Endurance Unmanned Aircraft Systems III program. The 5-foot parabolic dish is designed to be deployed within 15 minutes and can track and rotate to follow MANET-connected technology in the air, expanding the network bubble. Persistent Systems predicts this will reduce costs by decreasing dependence on satellite communications. “The antenna helps connect far-flung forces, acting like a cheaper, locally controlled low-Earth satellite with a greater data rate,” Erik Schechter, a Persistent Systems spokesperson, said in an email. The IP67-rated antenna system, designed for any weather environment, has interchangeable S-Band, L-Band and C-Band MIMO feeds and supports high data rates, video and voice communications up to 130 miles, yet can be stored compactly and fit into a standard-sized SUV, according to the Persistent Systems press release. Schechter also said that the antenna can also be used for longer-range chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives command missions, like ones in Syria. The auto-tracking antenna system is expected to improve full-motion video and sensor data transmission from drones and is automatically calibrated to reduce user error. “The idea is for the Army, Navy, [Special Operations Command] and foreign customers to use it for better communications relays,” Schechter said. SOCOM announced in May that UTC Aerospace Systems had been selected for its MEUAS III program and would provide SOCOM with flight management and imaging systems. Previously, SOCOM had selected Insitu, a company owned by Boeing and Textron Systems, to provide technology for intelligence and surveillance.

  • Marines Test New Drone Swarms a Single Operator Can Control

    July 24, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    Marines Test New Drone Swarms a Single Operator Can Control

    By Gina Harkins One Marine could soon dispatch more than a dozen drones to jam enemy communications and take out targets -- all from a single handheld tablet. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab has successfully tested the ability to have a single Marine operate six drones in the air simultaneously. The goal is to get that up to 15 and to see the small unmanned systems stay in the air for hours at a time. "What we're looking at is ... minimal operator burden so [a Marine's] face isn't down in a tablet," said Capt. Matt Cornachio, a fires project officer with the Warfighting Lab's science and technology division. "It's sort of having the machines do the work for you, so you give them intent and they operate." That could help ground troops in remote or hotly contested locations augment 60mm mortar fire with precision strikes. Cornachio said they're looking for drones with a host of potentials, including swarming, automatic-target recognition, kinetic-strike and electronic-warfare capabilities. "Your swarm is multifaceted so you have several warheads that hold their own capabilities in that cloud," he said. "... We see the precise nature of loitering munitions to augment company-level fires." In order to carry out a range of missions -- from delivering explosives to jamming communications, the Marine Corps is on the hunt for drone swarms that can stay in the air for hours. The Warfighting Lab held a drone-endurance test in the desert this month, Cornachio said, during which one unmanned aircraft flew for nearly two hours straight. "It's not out of the realm of possibility that these things could be in the air for three or four hours, so the smaller, the better," he added. Getting to the point where one Marine controls a swarm of drones is a big change from unmanned systems like the Switchblade, which required one operator per drone. That kamikaze-style drone delivers a payload equivalent to a 40mm grenade. The Warfighting Lab's efforts are part of a larger Marine Corps strategy called Sea Dragon 2025. Marines are experimenting with drones, self-driving vehicles, robotics and other technology that can limit their exposure in the field. The use of unmanned technology could be especially beneficial in complex urban environments, said Brig. Gen. Christian Wortman, head of the Warfighting Lab. "We can use manned-unmanned teaming and unmanned systems to take on some of the most dangerous tasks that Marines are executing in that kind of an urban environment," he said.

  • New leader wants Cyber Command to be more aggressive

    July 24, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    New leader wants Cyber Command to be more aggressive

    By: Mark Pomerleau In his first public comments since assuming the head of U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone said the Department of Defense is taking a more aggressive approach to protect the nation's data and networks and aims to stay ahead of malicious cyber and information-related activity. The command's new vision, called “Achieve and Maintain Cyberspace Superiority," published in April, describes the notion of “continuous engagement” and “defending forward” to understand adversary weaknesses and impose “tactical friction and strategic costs.” “Through persistent action and competing more effectively below the level of armed conflict, we can influence the calculations of our adversaries, deter aggression, and clarify the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in cyberspace,” the document reads. Nakasone speaking July 21 at the Aspen Security Forum, said adversaries have long worked below the threshold of war to steal intellectual property, personally identifiable information and undermine societal discourse. While individually, these activities don't appear sensational, taken in aggregate, Nakasone said, they have grave national economic and security implications. Many academics have criticized the U.S. response to Russian election interference and noted that the United States tends to view conflicts through the binary lens of war or peace while competitors such as Russia see themselves constantly engaged in a state of war. From the U.S. perspective, many cyber acts are considered beneath the threshold of war, denoting a lesser response. But Nakasone said the philosophy of continuous engagement is more in line with the new National Defense Strategy, one that suggests the return of great power competition with nations such as Russia and China. In practice, Nakasone articulated a more aggressive approach, one that involves entering an adversary's network to learn what they are doing as a means of improving defenses. The philosophy is “this idea that we want to have our forces to be able to enable our defensive capabilities and to act forward,” Nakasone said. “Act outside of the boundaries of the United States to understand what our adversaries are doing and be able to engage those adversaries and obviously [be] able to better protect our networks, our data and our weapon systems. Such action, penetrating a network or sovereign territory, has not typically been an action a military organization has taken outside an engaged hostility with an organization or nation vice a covert action finding. Nakasone's predecessor told Congress that the command was mulling over cyber operations in nations where the United States is not actively involved in a conflict. Then Adm. Michael Rogers, explained he is comfortable with his authorities to use offensive cyber tactics in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, however, he added that they need more speed and agility in employing these capabilities “outside the designated areas of hostility.”

  • The Army wants to build a better signals intelligence force

    July 23, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    The Army wants to build a better signals intelligence force

    By: Mark Pomerleau The Army's top intelligence official signed the service's new signals intelligence strategy July 16, a move that defense leaders believe leaves the Army better situated to better fight despite electronic warfare and cyber attacks. The new strategy ensures "our readiness to provide timely and relevant SIGINT-support [and meet] the commander's information needs in a large scale combat operation against a sophisticated adversary,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, said July 18 during an event on Capitol Hill hosted by the Association of Old Crows. Officials say the integration of SIGINT, electronic warfare and cyber is critical from a material, organization and doctrinal perspective. “Not only will our four lines of effort improve our SIGINT corps' capabilities and relevance in the face of rapid changes in the global security environment, it will also enable our electronic warfare and cyberspace effort to meet new challenges,” Berrier said. The four initiatives in the new strategy include: - Organizing and building the Army SIGINT force, - Educating the force, - Equipping the force, and - Developing doctrine. The new strategy increases the Army's ability to collect intelligence against peer adversaries, such as China and Russia, and provides a firm foundation for successful electronic warfare and cyber operations, Berrier said. A key component of the convergence includes the new Terrestrial Layer System (TLS), a SIGINT/EW system projected to be fielded on vehicles and used by new military intelligence-electronic warfare (MI-EW) companies the Army is working to stand up. The Army wants SIGINT, electronic warfare and cyber systems on the same platforms in the air and ground domain, Maj. Gen. Robert Walters, commander of the Intelligence Center of Excellence, said at the event. These systems, Berrier said, should be able to not only sense the environment but employ some type of action such as electronic attack or cyber capability. Why converge? Officials have stressed repeatedly in the last year the need for colleagues in similar disciplines throughout the Army to stay in touch and reap the mutually beneficial equities on behalf of commanders in the field. Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, the head of Army Cyber Command, said commanders shouldn't have to have something explained to them by the EW guy, the SIGINT guy and then the cyber guy. “What we decided is there's a better way, we have to pull it all together” for the commander, he said at the event. “We're going to have to work together because we all operate in the same space. And so do we really need three separate tools to plan operations in the spectrum? My argument would be no.” From an organizational perspective, the 29 series electronic warfare personnel will have deep knowledge in both cyber and electromagnetic spectrum operations. On the materiel side, especially with programs like the Terrestrial Layer System, the cyber and intel community are meeting regularly to integrate their requirements, officials said. In addition, Maj. Gen. John Morrison, commander of the Cyber Center of Excellence, told reporters in June that the Intelligence Center of Excellence is working with the Cyber Center to help ensure integrated formation and integrated capabilities.

  • DISA announces 3 new contracts to modernize communication

    July 23, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    DISA announces 3 new contracts to modernize communication

    By: Maddy Longwell The Defense Information Systems Agency has announced a program that it says will improve cyber capabilities and eliminate legacy network technology and infrastructure in the Pacific theater. The program, known as Pacific Enterprise Services – Hawaii (PES-HI), will modernize the Defense Department's information networks and communications infrastructure in Hawaii. The program consists of three contract vehicles to buy information network infrastructure services and upgrade internet protocol technology. The improvements will allow users of the DoD Information Network and communications technology in Hawaii to access features such as Voice over Internet Protocol and web conferencing. “Long term, PES–HI will modernize communications infrastructure to meet DoD requirements and provide cost savings and survivability to Pacific Command customers,” Army Maj. Ernesto Gumbs, the deputy program manager, said in a July 18 news release. PES–HI also will update technology provided under the previous contract vehicle, Joint Hawaii Information Transfer System (JHITS). AT&T had been the contractor on that program since 2006, when it won a $250 million deal. JHITS provided more than 45,000 Defense Switched Network telephone services for U.S. personnel in areas such as Singapore and Wake Island and 3,100 point-to-point intra-Hawaii transmission circuits for DoD telecommunications. Legacy services provided by JHITS were absorbed into the PES – HI program when it started, Gumbs said.

  • With cyber forces underequipped, DoD turns to rapid prototyping contracting

    July 23, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    With cyber forces underequipped, DoD turns to rapid prototyping contracting

    By: Mark Pomerleau U.S. Cyber Command's main warrior cadre has been deemed ready for war and now the organization is shifting its focus to readiness and operations. Sources have told Fifth Domain that DoD's cyber warriors lack certain skills, capabilities and even equipment. One source went so far as to say that the list of what these forces can do is short. As a result, the military wants to quickly get these new cyber warriors the tools they need. To do this, they are turning to contracting vehicles such as other transaction authorities and the so-called IT Box construct as a way to skirt the traditional acquisition system, which is often derided as lethargic, bureaucratic and not optimized for the high tempo of the software-centric world. These approaches allow for the government to partner with non-traditional companies for less mature technologies and prototypes meaning solutions, albeit some that are not always 100 percent mature, get to warfighters faster. This approach allows DoD to be more agile and flexible in procuring and equipping, multiple industry sources told Fifth Domain. However, one potential downside to this approach is a lack of competition for this work. What do cyber warriors need? As the command is growing, maturing and standing on its own, it needs training modules, infrastructure to conduct operations on and tools. Leaders say one of the most critical needs of cyber warriors is a training platform. And industry officials add that often the first time cyber warriors face certain techniques is during a mission. This is because of a lack of a holistic and robust training environment, similar to the Army's combat training centers or the Air Force's Red Flag. To change that the Army, on behalf of Cyber Command, is in charge of an effort called the Persistent Cyber Training Environment. The Army, using an OTA approach, is running a series of innovation challenges as a way to prototype capability. This approach would provide an interim solution to cyber warriors while at the same time reduce risk and help the larger program of record. Another capability cyber warriors will need is an operational platform from which to house tools, launch operations and perform command and control. Currently, the Air Force is working this program on behalf of Cyber Command. The Unified Platform, as it's called, is considered one of CYBERCOM's largest and most critical acquisition programs to date. Industry officials have said it is necessary to conduct cyber operations and is critical to national security. The Air Force's acquisition strategy is not totally clear, with some industry sources noting that they are not taking an OTA approach to this critical capability. The service is currently using the General Services Administration's premier enterprise Alliant Government wide Acquisition Contract vehicle in which multiple contractors will be awarded and will compete against each other for individual task orders on the final program. Federal agencies traditionally use Alliant to implement new and innovative technologies. (Potential) Drawbacks Despite being an attractive option to rapidly equip forces, these vehicles come with some risk. Industry officials acknowledge that OTAs were meant for prototyping, research and development and risk reduction for larger programs of record, not as a replacement for procuring large programs and platforms. While Congress has extended the use of OTAs for actual development of production, William LaPlante, senior vice president and general manager for MITRE National Security Sector, calls this “a dodgy area.” LaPlante, who served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition,, told Fifth Domain that the OTAs can limit competition. Since these rapid prototyping vehicles enable DoD to work with non-traditional companies that don't have to bring forth fully developed solutions, they tend to favor smaller tech companies as opposed to larger defense contractors. LaPlante said if one subscribes to the philosophy that the best product comes from a full competition, the competition part of these contracting mechanisms is not very clear. Second, he said, going faster means the upfront homework in the way of budgeting, market research and strategy may be neglected. While this work might take a bit of time, if it's not done, he said, the risk of making mistakes increases. Going forward, LaPlante noted that it will be important how blowback and failure is handled because “there's no question mistakes will be made." There is also the issue of integration. With a series of disparate systems, it is unclear who will be the integrator: government or industry? “It's a perpetual discussion of the last 20-30 years: is the government itself strong enough to assume the role of integrator? Probably not. You need some industry partner,” he said.

  • Germany wants its own version of DARPA, and within the year

    July 19, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    Germany wants its own version of DARPA, and within the year

    By: Sebastian Sprenger COLOGNE, Germany — Germany Defence and Interior ministry officials are pushing for the creation of a new agency this year that will study disruptive technologies relevant to Germany's defense and security. A decision on the way forward is expected “shortly,” a Defence Ministry spokesman told Defense News on Wednesday. Planning is underway to get the green light from the Finance Ministry, a necessary step because the agency would be set up as an “in-house” limited liability corporation, according to the spokesman. If all goes according to plan, insiders believe Cabinet-level consideration of the effort could come as early as September. While there is no official word on the exact timing, the spokesman said creating the agency is firmly on the calendar for 2018. The full name for the outfit is “Agentur für Disruptive Innovationen in der Cybersicherheit und Schlüsseltechnologien,” or ADIC. Its name first popped up in the coalition-government agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and Social Democrats in March. The document postulated that the agency, overseen by the two ministries for interior and exterior security, would help ensure Germany's “technological innovation leadership.” Also requested in that document was the creation of an “IT security fund” that would help protect related key technologies. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen referred to the coming agency in a speech in May, equating its purpose to that of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, otherwise known as DARPA. She presented the idea as part of a wider plan toward deep-futures thinking on cybersecurity matters, which also includes a study program at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. Under the relatively new shift to emphasize all things cyber in the German military, the Defence Ministry's Cyber Innovation Hub, created last year, is slated to survey the domestic technology startup scene for ideas with potential military application. Asked by Defense News what status the upcoming agency will accord to the field of artificial intelligence, ministry officials responded that such projects “generally” would be eligible to receive temporary funding if they are deemed relevant to the mission. Much remains unknown about the German military's approach to artificial intelligence, famously dubbed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last year as the technology that holds the key to ruling the world. “The research area of artificial intelligence and potential applications by the Bundeswehr are being substantively reviewed,” the defense spokesman said. Whether the new ADIC or any of the existing organizations inside the Defence Ministry would get involved remains an open question, he added. Some experts fear Germany is falling behind the the United States' and China's enormous efforts in artificial intelligence, though government officials have said they believe the country's talent base and emerging policy framework can ensure success. A whitepaper released Wednesday by the Cabinet agency leading the push on AI, the Ministry of Education and Research, proclaimed the goal of making German-made AI a “seal of quality recognized all over the world.” The document will lead to a more comprehensive strategy by late November. It makes no explicit mention of any military or defense applications. Efforts already exist within the armed forces and the wider government to employ data-mining and predictive-analysis tools, which fall under the broader definition of artificial intelligence. For example, defense officials have touted experiments with a forecasting application developed to predict worldwide crises. Officials also try to play up the Bundeswehr's geekiness in its search for new recruits. A current online marketing campaign showcases the career field of a Bundeswehr University professor employing AI techniques to analyze terror attacks for patterns.

  • US Air Force looks to accelerate artificial intelligence contracts

    July 18, 2018 | International, Aerospace, C4ISR

    US Air Force looks to accelerate artificial intelligence contracts

    FARNBOROUGH, England — The Air Force is still not moving fast enough to recruit the software talent that it needs to harness emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, its acquisition head said Tuesday. "I don't think we're attracting enough people. Whether they're the right people or not, I think that's a separate question. I'm not sure that we'll be able to answer that until we're working with a broader set of the industry base that's working AI,” Will Roper, the Air Force's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logstics, told reporters at Farnborough Airshow. “I contend that the companies driving AI are a different breed of company than those who drive evolution in hardware, especially companies that drove hardware that have gotten us to today's military. The paces are faster, turnovers are quicker. Software is done in month cycles not year cycles.” Over the past year, the Air Force has charted some successes and some failures in its attempts to integrate tech like AI and big data analytics with legacy hardware systems like fighter jets or air operations center. It has established the Kessel Run Experimentation Lab, a group of industry and airmen in Boston that are iterating new capabilities for air operations centers. Instead of rolling out a large software package, the coders focus on app-like updates that can more rapidly insert new functionality into the AOC. But it's also suffered setbacks — most notably, Google's stated intention to withdraw from future Defense Department projects after some employees objected to the company's work on Project Maven, a program would allow the Pentagon to use AI to review footage from drones. Some have worried that could have a chilling effect on future efforts. Roper said that a big focus of his job is changing how the Air Force approaches software. In the past, software was a product that could be bought in cycles, just like a physical product like a missile or aircraft. Now, it's a service that must be reworked constantly, he said. “You get a good set of coders in, they can push out so much code per month. You put them with the user that's going to use the code and together they're able to collaborate to make sure that the developer is creating something that the operator is using,” he said. “That's working very well for us in Boston, and we're looking to expand that. That's the basic mechanism to move towards AI. We're going to need people that are working with us that are software people that are working, tweaking algorithms with the users that use them, and it's probably a different company than have worked with us over the past 10 years.” The Air Force has to get those companies under contract faster, in weeks instead of months, Roper said. It's looking for opportunities to use contract vehicles specifically delegated for small businesses and to use AFWERX — its outreach arm to nontraditional contractors who are creating promising commercial technologies — to introduce startups to the service. But Roper acknowledged there was no easy answer to the problem. One possible way to inject AI into Air Force programs — although a mundane one — is to use it for predictive maintenance technologies that use sensors to forecast when a component will break, said Air Force Under Secretary Matt Donovan. “It's very exciting for us and I think it holds a lot of potential to reduce our sustainment costs,” he said, noting that sustainment makes up a whopping 70 percent of the life-cycle cost of any given product. Roper agreed that sustainment was a great area to begin employing AI, and that experience could help the Air Force begin to figure out how to use the technology for classified applications.

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